by MICHAEL CARUSO
Although many people now access their music via the Internet, musical ensembles still record and release compact discs. Two local groups, Piffaro and the Ama Deus Ensemble, have recently recorded, produced and released two excellent CDs.
Piffaro’s “Waytes: English Music for a Renaissance Band” was recorded and edited by George Blood Audio, located right here in Chestnut Hill. The album was produced for and released through Navonna Records. Piffaro, an internationally acclaimed period instruments ensemble, is in residence at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.
Romanian-born Valentin Radu leads the Ama Deus Ensemble in “Rebels in Paris” and features music by Faure, Stravinsky and Gershwin. The album, available on the VAD Classics label, was recorded “live” in concert in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
“Waytes” features instrumental selections by such English Renaissance masters as William Bryd, Thomas Tallis and Thomas Weelkes, as well as a host of anonymous pieces beautifully and imaginatively arranged by the individual members of Piffaro: artistic co-directors Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemkin, Grant Herreid, Greg Ingles, Christa Patton, Priscilla Smith, Tom Zajac, plus guest artist Daphna Mor.
As is often the case in their concerts at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, the album’s program groups the selections by instrumental scoring. Works written for recorder consort, for instance, will follow one another, to be succeeded by pieces for shawms, krumhorns, sackbuts and dulcians. There are numbers featuring vocals as well as works including bagpipes and percussion. Considering the early stage of development of the instruments utilized in the album, there’s a remarkable degree of variety of timbre and an impressive level of developmental counterpoint.
What is absolutely consistent, however, is the rock-solid level of technical mastery, the memorable expressivity of the playing and the flawless fidelity of George Blood’s recording of the playing. The sound is clear, crisp and resonant. For more information, visit www.piffaro.org.
For those of us accustomed to hearing Valentin Radu conduct baroque and classical music at either the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields or St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, the notion of his leading the Ama Deus Ensemble in music by Faure, Stravinsky and Gershwin is bound to come as something of a shock. I must admit to a certain amount of wariness when I began listening to these “live” performances of Faure’s “Pavane” and Requiem Mass, Stravinsky’s “Ragtime” and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and “Porgy and Bess” Symphonic Suite.
I was pleasantly surprised. Radu displayed an admirable sensitivity for the restrained elegance of the “Pavane.” He caught the intimate spirituality and exquisite lyricism of the Requiem Mass, the jagged jauntiness of the “Ragtime,” the swanky jazz of “An American in Paris” and the sultry emotions of “Porgy and Bess.” The playing of the Ama Deus Ensemble was stylish, and the singing of vocalists Darlene Kelsey, Julie-Ann Green, Timothy Bentch and Kevin Deas was exemplary. Visit www.VoxAmaDeus.org.